Sunday, February 10, 2008

Keltec PF9: The Hamlet of Concealed Carry

Could this 9mm be the ultimate pocket pistol?

To Keltec or not to Keltec: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of the snobbish handgunning elitists for even reviewing a Keltec,
Or take to the PC and write the review based upon actual experience rather than emotion,
And ignore the anonymous internet curmudgeons.

There is no middle ground with a Keltec pistol. You either love them or hate them and this is usually predicated on whether you get one that works or doesn’t. Keltec’s niche in the handgun market is the provision of value-priced, lightweight, concealable, and downright homely pistols. They also have a reputation for turning out pistols with “reliability opportunities”. In all honesty that has not been my experience with this model PF9 or the P3AT I previously owned however the internet forums are full of customers posting their experiences with having to send their pistol back to the factory (most all stated that the customer service was quick and more than satisfactory) or postings giving instructions on how to perform your own “fluff and buff” job to make the pistol slicker and enhance reliability. So, at the risk of being scoffed at by those who got a bad one, ridiculed by those who think that the complete catalogue of handguns begins and ends with “Glock”, or looked down upon by the elitists who dismiss every pistol that doesn’t have cost at least a grand, I will review a Keltec today.
The .380 caliber P3AT was my constant companion for about a year and a half as its weight of 8.2 ounces and width of .77 inches made it one easy carrying pocket pistol. These attributes also made it uncomfortable to shoot. Its straight blowback design and slim grip concentrated the snappy recoil into the web of my hand…and it hurt. Additionally, the trigger had some very sharp edges that cut into and blistered my trigger finger. It was difficult to fire more than a half a box of ammo at any one time. On the plus side my P3AT was utterly reliable and more accurate than one would expect, especially with the almost non-existent sights.
Who Makes The Smallest 9mm?
The proliferation of Concealed Carry Permits has pushed manufacturers back to their design boards to compete in the pocket pistol race. The Keltec PF9 is a single stack 9mm pistol with a 7 + 1 capacity. The barrel is 3.1 inches long, weighs in a 12.7 ounces, is 5.85 inches in overall length, 4.3 inches in height, and .88 inches wide. This seems pretty small but many manufacturers are claiming to have the smallest, lightest, etc. Who is telling the truth? Well there is some truth to most of the manufacturer’s claims depending upon the specification that is important to you? Is your overall concern height, length, width, weight? You’re not going to find one pistol that wins in all of those categories. Aside from the Keltec PF9 the other smallest (as far as I know right now) contenders are the Rohrbaugh and Kahr PM9. Here’s how they stack up: If overall length is your major concern for a pocket pistol then the Rohrbaugh at 5.2 “ is your baby, followed by the Kahr PM9 which is negligibly longer at 5.3 inches. If height is your concern then the Rohrbaugh wins again at 3.7 inches with the Kahr PM9 again coming in a close second at an even 4 inches. If you can find pants pockets that are fairly deep then overall height and length may not mean as much as width. The Rohrbaugh takes the prize again at .81” with the Keltec PF9 at .88 inches wide. To me a big factor in a pocket pistol is weight. The Keltec PF9, at 12.7 ounces, is a mere one ounce lighter than the Rohrbaugh.
Now at this point you might say “Hey, the Rohrbaugh is shorter in height, length, and width and is only heavier than the Keltec by one measly ounce, isn’t it the ultimate in pocket carry?” Well there is one characteristic left and that is shootability. In this realm either the Kahr or the Keltec have it over the Rohrbaugh. Shootability (to me) is made up of several components; reliability, shooting comfort (or the opposite, pain), and sight picture. I found reliability problems with my Rohrbaugh whereas the Kahr and the Keltec have digested everything I have thrown at them. The Rohrbaugh was also uncomfortable to shoot; first the grip surface is so small that it was necessary to reposition the hand for each follow up shot and second, the trigger guard beat up my trigger finger during recoil. In terms of sights? Well, the Kahr and Keltec both have small but very useable sights. The Rohrbaugh comes in two different models; a fixed sight version which I liken to a nick and a burr meaning the rear sight is a nick in the top of the slide and the front sight is about the size of a burr up front that they neglected to polish off. Their other model has absolutely no sights at all. So yes, the Rohrbaugh is certainly the overall smallest, however I have a much better chance of being able to hit something with the Kahr or the Keltec.
Moving up on the size meter the Wilson Combat ADP and the Glock G26 are a little larger and heavier but offer a capacity of 10 + 1 and the ADP comes standard with night sights. Some however may find them just a little too large for pocket carry.
Back to the Keltec PF9
So what can I tell you about the Keltec? It is not a glamorous handgun, but very utilitarian for the purposes of concealed carry. With the short grip, you’re only going to get your middle and ring finger around it but the little finger tucks easily in below the magazine. Add your support hand to the grip and that is about as steady a platform as you will need. The pistol comes supplied with a finger extension you can affix to the one magazine, however in experimenting with it I found that it does not really add enough room to allow me to get my little finger on it and just seemed in the way, so I left it off. Someone with smaller hands would probably find this to be just the thing. I lament the fact that the PF9 only comes with one magazine and strongly feel that every semi-automatic pistol manufacturer should include two magazines with their pistols. In reality however, I cannot expect a lot of extras to be included with a pistol retailing for $279.00.
A great feature of the PF9 is that the rear sight is adjustable for windage. The sight is loosened with a supplied hex wrench and is easily moveable, right or left, with normal thumb pressure. I was concerned that the ease of moving the sights would mean that they would become misaligned during extensive recoil. However, with over 450 rounds of various manufacture through the pistol, the sights have not drifted. I still may adjust them further and apply a little Loctite when I have them completely dialed in (they shoot right on with 115 grain FMJ Remington ammo, but are off to the left with most defensive hollowpoints). The rear sight is further adjustable through the use of shims however they are not supplied nor could I find them on Keltec’s website.
The pistol is rated for use with + P ammunition however there is a warning against continuous use.
Shots Fired
In shooting up 474 rounds of ammo I produced quite a few targets however I have chosen the ones below as they are the most representative of all shot (both good and bad). The pistol shoots the best with 115 grain FMJ and 300 of the rounds fired were of that ilk and although represented below I am trying to show more of the targets fired upon with defensive hollowpoint loads.
#1. 15 rounds of Remington 115 grain FMJ ammon fired at 21 feet
#2. 8 rounds of Remington 115 grain FMJ fired as 21 feet
#3. 50 rounds of the same ammo fired at 35 feet
#4. 7 rounds of Remington Golden Sabre 124 grain JHP ammo fired at 21 feet
#5. 8 rounds of the Golden Sabre at 21 feet
#6. 7 rounds of Federal Premium Defense 147 grain JHP Hydra-Shok ammo at 21 feet
#7. 7 rounds of Federal 124 grain Hydra-Shok ammo at 21 feet.

If this little pistol appeals to you for concealed carry then go get one and don't let the opinions of those who might vex you for buying a Keltec pressure you away. Slip it into a good pocket holster (if you have a carry permit) and they won't see it anyway.